Joint Press Conference, India-Australia 2+2 Ministerial Meeting

  • Joint transcript, E&OE
11 September 2021

Compere: Good afternoon, friends. Thank you for joining us today. Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Woman of Australia, Senator Marise Payne; Honourable Minister of Defence of Australia, Mr Peter Dutton; Honourable Shri Rajnath Singh; Honourable Minister of External Affairs, Dr S Jaishankar; distinguished delegates from both countries; friends from the media, thank you for joining us today. A very good afternoon to you and warm welcome for this very special media interaction that we have today on the occasion of the inaugural 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministers meeting, a ministerial meeting that we have today with Australia.

We will begin today’s media interaction with statements from all the ministers. To begin the proceedings, may I request the Honourable Shri Rajnath Singh to make his remarks.

Shri Rajnath Singh: [translation] Excellency Ms Marise Payne, Excellency Peter Dutton, Dr Jaishankar, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour and pleasure to receive both the ministers from Australia for the inaugural 2+2 India – Australia Ministerial Dialogue.  The 2+2 dialogue signifies the importance of the India – Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. India and Australia share an important partnership which is based on a shared vision of free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. As two democracies we have a common interest in peace and prosperity of the entire region.

Today we have had in-depth and wide-ranging discussion with Minister Payne and Minister Dutton on bilateral and regional issues. We have discussed various institutional frameworks for wide ranging collaboration including defence cooperation and fight against global pandemic. We exchanged views on Afghanistan, Maritime Security in the Indo-Pacific, cooperation in multilateral formats and other related topics.

During the discussions both sides emphasised the need to ensure free flow of trade, adherence to international rules and norms and sustainable economic growth in the entire region.

On the bilateral defence cooperation we decided to expand military engagements across services, facilitate greater defence information sharing and to work closely for mutual logistic support.

In the context of Defence Cooperation, both sides were glad to note continued participation of Australia in the Malabar Exercises. We invited Australia to engage India’s growing defence industry and to collaborate in co-production and co-development of defence equipment.

Dr Jaishankar and I thank both the Australian ministers for their visit to India despite the challenges of the pandemic. Both the sides agreed to continue the high level engagements to build a strong and robust partnership. Thank you very much.

Compere: May I now request Honourable Minister of External Affairs to make his opening remarks.

Dr S Jaishankar: Minister Payne, Minister Dutton, friends of the media, we’ve just concluded the first India-Australia 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue. This format is reflective of our growing engagement under the umbrella of our comprehensive strategic partnership. Before our meeting today I met Minister Payne in the morning to discuss a range of bilateral, regional and international issues.

I thank both the Australian ministers and the Australian delegation for their effort to come here in person to make this dialogue happen. As democratic polities, market economies and pluralistic societies we have a natural bonding that has assumed contemporary relevance in a changing world. It was during the first India-Australia Virtual Leaders’ Summit held on 4th June 2020 that our Prime Ministers agreed to elevate our relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership. This 2+2 dialogue format is a direct outcome of that leaders’ summit and is pursuant to the comprehensive strategic partnership.

India-Australia relations have experienced unprecedented momentum in the last seven years. There have been frequent engagements, despite the pandemic, in a range of areas. New mechanisms have come up reflecting new energies. Our people-to-people contact has added a unique dimension to this relationship through the flow of talent, ideas, education and tourism.

Today as the four ministers come together for the first time, we discussed our experiences and further collaboration in responding to the Covid-19 challenges, Decentralised globalisation, strategic economy and a sharper sense of national security are some of the relevant outcomes. We also underlined our commitment to creating secure and resilient global supply chains. We welcomed the renewed vigour with which both sides are now engaging on trade issues to fully expedite the complementarities between us.

As has been stated by Shri Rajnath Singh, we have had some significant progress in our defence cooperation framework and we have set out an ambitious framework to further enhance our cooperation.

The 2+2 dialogue reflects the comfort that we have attained in our bilateral relationship, especially in strategic and security spheres based on the growing convergences with Australia on the security issues and a shared commitment to free, open, prosperous and rules-based Indo-Pacific region. The peaceful development of the Indo-Pacific has been a focus of our relationship. Our two countries believe that it should be shaped by a participative and collaborative manner. We’ve reiterated our commitment to continue to work together for peace, stability, prosperity of all countries in the region. This would include a rules-based international order, freedom of navigation in international waters, promoting connectivity as well as respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states.

During the 2+2 dialogue we also exchanged views on developments in our neighbouring regions. Afghanistan was understandably a major subject of discussion. We agreed that the international community must be united in its approach guided by UN Security Council Resolution 25-93.

As members of the Quad we recognise the importance of plurilateralism in a multi-polity and rebalanced world. We appreciate the value of our trilaterals with Japan, France and Indonesia and will hold these dialogues soon.

The importance of ongoing cooperation and multilateral arena for preserving a rules-based international order was also emphasised. Our cooperation in the commonwealth is important to that organisation’s performance.

I also specifically took up with Minister Payne the problems faced by Indian students in Australia and those wishing to go to Australia as well as the Indian origin community that is resident there. I urged that difficulties faced by students due to travel restrictions be sympathetically dressed as soon as possible.

Today is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. It is a reminder – if one is still needed – of the importance of combating terrorism without compromise. Close as we are to its epicentre, let us appreciate the value of international cooperation to that end.

In conclusion, I once again thank Minister Payne and Minister Dutton for their presence here in India today and for a very, very productive 2+2 dialogue.

Compere: Thank you, sir. May I now invite Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Woman of Australia, Senator Marise Payne, to take the floor.

Marise Payne: Thank you very much. And to Minister Jaishankar and Minister Singh; Minister for Defence of Australia, Peter Dutton; to Australian High Commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell; to the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Kathryn Campbell; and members of the media, may I say what an enormous pleasure it is to be in New Delhi again. Unusually for Australians, we appear to have brought rain with us. We intend to take some home because why most certainly need it. But it is, as always, no matter the weather, a great pleasure to be here.

I want to extend our heart-felt thanks to our hosts for their warm and generous hospitality and their facilitation of this extremely important meeting between Australia and India. This is my third visit to India in three years, and I’ve stopped counting the number of meetings I have been able to have with my good friend Dr Jaishankar, many of them face to face, perhaps too many of them virtual. And we look forward to escaping the confines of Covid-19 to ensure that those face-to-face meetings and international engagements can continue.

That strong engagement, though, speaks to the powerful momentum in the relationship between our two nations. And it is an important step today with the 2+2 meeting marking another success stemming from our comprehensive strategic partnership and from the undertakings that we are pursuing.

Australia and India share a positive vision of a free, open, secure, inclusive Indo-Pacific. As maritime power and outward-looking democracies in the Indo-Pacific, our cooperation is essential. We’ve talked today about many things but including the strong and enduring Australia-India relationships in trade, in community links, in cyber and climate and defence. We have shared views on the challenges of the East China and South Chain you Seas, of Myanmar and of Afghanistan. Last month did see the fall of Kabul. And along with the ongoing fight of terrorism, the future of Afghanistan remains a central concern toll both of our countries.

Both of our countries have been the victims of appalling terrorist attacks. And this day, the 11th of September, will be forever remembered for those terrible events of 20 years ago when terrorism struck at the heart of our friend the United States and, by extension, also our modern, pluralist and democratic world. It’s fitting that Minister Dutton and I should be here on this anniversary with such an important democratic partner.

Ours is a relationship that supports stability and the rules-based order, a relationship that is based on the long-standing commonalities, but is also full of vitality and promise. And I am very glad to be here today to see us take it forward another very important step. Thank you.

Compere: May I now request Honourable Minister of Defence of Australia, Mr Peter Dutton, to take the floor.

Peter Dutton: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon and thank you very much for being here. Thank you, Marise, for your words. It’s been a great honour for Minister Payne and myself to be here in the distinguished company of Minister Jaishankar. Thank you very much, and also to Minister Singh, two good friends and two wonderful people for the relationship.

I, too, want to start today by acknowledging the 20-year anniversary of 9/11 and acknowledge that many people will still be suffering the loss of a loved one and let it always be a reminder to us of the human cost of the barbaric acts of terrorism which, as Minister Payne points out, we see not only in the United States but in our own countries and, indeed, in regions across the world. And it’s part of the reason why this relationship is so important and why we rededicate ourselves to the values that we share. And that was reflected in the discussions today.

Our discussions have been incredibly productive, and from a year on since the Prime Ministers Morrison and Modi signed the comprehensive strategic partnership, Australia and India’s Defence relationship is at an historic high.

It has been a great pleasure, Minister Singh, to spend time with you, and I thank you very much for your engagement. I want to acknowledge your dedication in advancing the independent-Australian defence and security partnership. And I, too, am equally committed to this partnership and to this endeavour.

India is a rising Indo-Pacific great power and an increasingly significant security partner for Australia, particularly in the maritime domain. We both depend on free and open access to sea lanes in the Indo-Pacific for our trade and economic wellbeing. And we share an unwavering commitment to upholding the rules-based international order and ensuring the Indo-Pacific is open, inclusive and, indeed, prosperous.

As our nations contend with an increasing complex and uncertain region, the friendship and partnership between our two nations is essential – essential for helping to ensure our region is secure and stable. And in this vein, I’ve been incredibly pleased to see the growth in joint exercises and activities between our armed forces, despite the challenges of Covid-19. As we speak, ships from our navies are exercising together off the coast of Australia’s Northern Territory as part of AUSINDEX, our two nations’ biennial bilateral naval exercise.

Furthermore, we continue to collaborate in other areas, like defence science and technology and, importantly, cyber security. Our mutual logistics support arrangement enabled Australia to airlift oxygen to India and support its response to the pandemic. Such activities are paving the way for deeper and more sophisticated operational cooperation between our two nations.

Today Minister Singh and I agreed to several initiatives to further our strong defence relationship and to drive greater practical engagement between our armed forces. Australia will invite India to participate in Exercise Talisman Sabre and to continue to support Indo-Pacific endeavour, as we saw earlier this week. Australia will continue to participate in India’s Exercise Malabar with the United States and Japan.

Australia and India have agreed to reinforce each other’s maritime domain awareness through increased information-sharing and, indeed, practical cooperation. And, finally, Australia will increase its defence diplomatic representation here in New Delhi, a very significant and historic step, to support closer coordination on Indian Pacific maritime security and greater information-sharing.

This meeting was a vital opportunity to discuss practical ways to reinforce our comprehensive strategic partnership, deepen our interoperability and bolster our defence cooperation. I look forward very much to continued close engagement with Minister Singh. I thank the Indian government for the warm hospitality that’s been extended to Marise and I, and I thank you for your friendship, which continues to grow on each of these occasions. Thank you.

Compere: Thank you, Ministers, for your opening remarks. We will now take a few questions from friends of the media. Given time constraints, we’ll limit that to four. May I begin the first question from [indistinct] from Asian Age, please.

Journalist: My question is to Dr Jaishankar. Sir, you mentioned that Afghanistan was discussed. Maybe you can give us some idea to what extent Afghanistan was discussed, and is there going to be a common approach between India and Australia in dealing with the problems emanating from Afghanistan region?

Dr S Jaishankar: Well, I think if your question is about a common approach, Minister Payne should have an equal shot at an answer. But what I can say is that we had a very detailed exchange of views and our approach is very similar. In a way, it is summed up by the UN Security Council Resolution 25-93, which emphasises most of all that Afghanistan must not allow its soil to be used in any manner by anybody for terrorism. But apart from that, there were issues of concern about the inclusiveness of the dispensation, concerns about treatment of women and minorities, matters related to travel of Afghans, issues regarding humanitarian assistance. So it is an evolving situation. I think it was a good change of notes. But I think perhaps Minister Payne would like to speak for Australia’s position.

Marise Payne: Thank you, Dr Jaishankar, and thank you for the question. We do share very strong interests in ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for the breeding or the training of terrorists, and that is an abiding concern of the international community. For Australia’s part we’re also very focused on seeking safe passage for those in Afghanistan – citizens, foreign nationals, visa holders of other countries – who seek to leave Afghanistan. And we have urged that they be allowed to leave safely, and that means are available for them to do so.

We are very conscious of the impact of violence and breaches of human rights on the Afghanistan community and, again, would call for those human rights, fundamental human rights to be observed. Humanitarian assistance will be a very important focus for the international community. We know that not only the recent events will have exacerbated any issues that were already being dealt with, but the ongoing drought, the significant internal and external displacement of citizens, the need for the World Food Program, the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration to be allowed unimpeded and safe access to provide humanitarian support is something which is very front of mind for Australia and for the international community.

And I would also strongly reinforce Australia’s views in relation to the position of women and girls. For 20 years we have worked with the international community and the people of Afghanistan to ensure that the circumstances for women and girls in relation to education, participation in the workforce, the protection of their basic rights were preserved and, in fact, allowed to grow. And there are many women and girls who attest to the achievements of those two decades, and Australia stands with other members of the international community in seeking to ensure that that is not wound back and the participation of women and girls in their own right in a just way in the community is allowed to continue.

Compere: Thank you. The next question, [indistinct] from PTI.

Journalist: Good afternoon, Ministers. The 2+2 talks took place at a very, very crucial time when the region is witnessing unsettled geopolitical flux, including events in Afghanistan as well as our growing convergence among Quad member countries in the Indo-Pacific region. Considering the deepening of Australia an India’s defence cooperation, Shri Rajnath Singh, how do you see India-Australia defence cooperation going forward in the next five to six years? Thank you.

Shri Rajnath Singh: [Foreign language spoken].

Compere: Would Minister Dutton also like to add to that?

Peter Dutton: Thank you. Well, firstly I endorse the words of Minister Singh. I think the outlook and the desire for both of our countries is to see a remaining peace and prosperity in our region. And India enjoys the economic success that it does today and Australia enjoys the economic success that we do because of the prevailing peace in our region. The Indo-Pacific is a complex area and increasingly so. Neither Australia nor India are aggressive nations; we stand for our values and we work very closely together because our values align. And we want for our countries, as we want for other countries in the region, a very bright future. And it’s why we shouldn’t take what we have for granted or what we’ve been able to build up since the end of the Second World War in our part of the world. We need to make sure that that peace prevails, and that’s the cause that we dedicate ourselves to.

And so the arrangements between our respective defence agencies is more important than ever – the sharing of that intelligence, the maritime operations, the ability to form those people-to-people links, the shared arrangements in terms of facilities and understanding the better ways in which we can operate together to reach beyond our normal areas of influence, these are all very important areas of pursuit in the relationship. And I commend the leadership under Minister Singh and the general and Secretary Kumar and others for that work and the engagement with Australia, because we’re dedicated to making sure that peace continues in our region and that our countries can continue to thrive and to prosper.

Compere: Thank you, sir. The third question, may I invite [indistinct] of TV9 to the microphone, please.

Journalist: Thank you, sir. My question is to both sides, my question also, since India and Australia both are members of the Quad and China calls Quad as Asian NATO, what is your response?

Dr S Jaishankar: Well, I think my response would be that we call ourselves Quad, and Quad is a platform where four countries have come to cooperate for their benefit and for the benefit of the world. I think a term like NATO is very much a cold war term looking back – I think Quad looks in the future. It reflects globalization, it reflects the convictions of countries to work together. And if you look at the kind of issues Quad is focused on today – vaccines, supply chains, education, connectivity – you know, I can’t see any relationship between such issues and NATO or any other kind of organizations like that. So I think it’s important not to misrepresent what is the reality of that.

Marise Payne: Thank you. I think Jai has complained it and articulated that response extremely well, if I may say. And it’s certainly the case that as Australia and India have re-energised relations, there is also the opportunity to work through smaller groups like the Quad and other pieces of regional architecture like the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN regional forum, for example. Quad members are champions of ASEAN centrality. We actively engage in that ASEAN-led architecture. We’re committed to supporting the practical implementation of the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

I would also say that we have a positive and practical agenda. Minister Jaishankar has mentioned a number of those initiatives around vaccines, around climate, around critical technology, also trying to address some of the dangerous disinformation that pervades the world’s experience in relation to the pandemic. So our constructive engagement in an informal diplomatic work is overwhelmingly about contributing positively for that open, inclusive and resilient region in which we all want to live.

Compere: Thank you. From final question may I request [indistinct] at CNN News IT.

Journalist: My question is for both External Affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar, and the Australian Foreign Minister. Covid has changed a lot but we’re all learning to live in the new normal. But there’s a lot of frustration and problems for Indian students who want to travel to Australia and because of restrictions they haven’t been able to do so. Was that matter taken up by the Indian side, and the Australian side, has there been any reassurance as to when things can be eased out?

Dr S Jaishankar: Can I go first?

Marise Payne: You may.

Dr S Jaishankar: Yes, you know, we hear a lot from the students and I think their frustrations, their feelings, are completely understandable. Many of them would like to be at the institutions that they are already studying or want to study in. So, we discussed it in some detail today. Minister Payne, who will, of course, speak for herself, shared with me what are Australia’s – what is Australia’s thinking about when students would be able to come. But certainly – and I say this not just for Australia; I think we’ve been having some problems with some other countries as well. We had initially with the US, we’re still having some issues with Canada. So, I do want, you know, the students of the country and the parents of the students to know that it is something we take as a very high priority and take up very, very vigorously with our foreign partners. But Minister Payne would like to perhaps speak about Australia’s thinking.

Marise Payne: Thank you, I would. I live and work in western Sydney, and I am one of the most enthusiastic proponents of welcoming our much-loved Indian students back into the Australian education system as soon as it is possible for us to do so. The diaspora and the student body is very present where I live and where I work. And we miss that engagement sincerely.

There are still over 60,000 Indian students in Australia. But I do definitely understand the desire that those students and their families who are not able to be there have, that desire they have for the on-campus experience, the in-country life. And it is, of course, very difficult. The Covid restrictions have impacted travel to and from Australia, not just for the sorts of students that you raise – for Australians themselves and, in fact, for ministers like Minister Dutton and I. We are required to comply with the same sort of quarantine restrictions and health requirements as all incoming travellers, as you would expect.

So our approach in Australia has been based on research and modelling commissioned by the government from the eminent Doherty Institute, and that gives us a four-phase pathway in terms of our response to Covid-19 and our progression through and out of the restrictions that have been in place.

We are on the way to vaccinating Australians to a level which will give us the confidence to begin the sort of reopening that will enable students to return in phase 3 and then in phase 4 a much more open environment for international travel, and that will include students.

So, I think although it is frustrating, I understand, for both the individuals and for families, there is shared desire on both sides to see that travel resume between our countries as soon as it is safe to do so. And I look forward to being one of the people at the airport to welcome the first arrivals of Indian students coming back to Australia.

Compere: Thank you honorable ministers, thank you guests. That brings us to the end of this special briefing. May I request you remain seated as the delegation members leave the hall.

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